Where to See Wildflowers in the Bay Area
The dreary days of our extra wet winter have a bright spot, as wildflowers start to paint California’s landscape, from deserts in the south to northern hillsides and grasslands. The wildflower season typically starts now in March and can run as late as July, with April a great month for wildflower blooms in the Bay Area.
If you’re planning to travel, the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline offers free weekly updates on Fridays for wildflower viewing locations in Central and Southern California at 818 768-1802, ext. 7. Closer to home, visit the Northern California-based Natural History Wanderings blog for updated wildflower blooms statewide, including Bay Area spots in Marin County and Henry W. Coe State Park in Morgan Hill.
For help identifying wildflowers, check out the California Academy of Sciences’ Wildflower searchable database or UC Berkeley’s CalPhotos.
Of course, much like this winter’s weather, wildflower blooms can be unpredictable. Call ahead or check websites in advance to find out if flowers have sprouted.
Some of the best places to spot wildflowers in the Bay Area are:
Anthony Chabot Regional Park, Castro Valley. Lupine, wild rose and buttercups typically burst on the scene in April and May at this 3,314-acre park and campground, boasting both grasslands and dense forests. For a short hike, tackle the Grass Valley Loop, a 2.8-mile round trip. Many of the trails encircle Lake Chabot, so the more hearty can hike the entire 12.4-mile loop. Bring sunscreen and hats as all trails are situated in full sun. For an entire day of activity, take advantage of fishing, boating and picnic areas. Restrooms and snack bar are available. Stroller friendly. 9999 Redwood Road, Castro Valley. 888-327-2757, option 3, extension 4502. The park has a handy photographic wildflower guide.
Mt. Diablo State Park, Clayton. Wild mustard and California poppies provide much of the show at Mount Diablo. You should score some decent color when you hike at Mitchell Canyon, Falls Trail, Back Trail or Fire Trail. You can spy poppies and other blooms driving in from the various entrances. At the Junction Ranger Station, study the brochure about local flowers. Be sure to take the kids to the Rock City area where they can climb on rock formations and climb through small caves. Camping is permitted, as well as biking. Not designed for strollers, but jogging strollers are fine on rocky paths. Vehicle entrance fee $10. Park info: 96 Mitchell Canyon Road, Clayton. 925-837-2525. For wildflower identification and updates on what’s blooming, visit the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association’s website. The association also leads guided walks and has other events.
Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol. This dog-friendly wilderness area of nearly 7,000 acres is packed with camping, backpacking, picnicking, hiking and horseback riding activities. Flower fanatics must take the Sunol Loop to Cerro Estate, a 4.75-mile round trip. Hikers also give thumbs up to flower-strewn trails dubbed Indian Joe Creek, Canyon View and the steep Flag Hill. Be on the lookout for poppies, mustard, goldfields and lupine. Start at the Old Green Barn Visitor Center for information on naturalist-led programs or to check out a wildflower identification kit. No pavement paths for strollers. Seasonal weekend and holiday parking $5. 1895 Geary Road, Sunol. 510-544-3249. A guide to the park’s wildflowers can be found here.
Mount Tamalpais State Park, Mill Valley. North of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpais serves up a diverse platter of flora and fauna. At the East Peak Visitor Center, ask to see the book on wildflowers of Mont Tamalpais before hiking. The Matt Davis Trail is a gentle, entry-level path. Advanced hoofers can scale the 6.5-mile Cataract Falls trail to the Protero Meadows Loop. Second in popularity is the Steep Ravine Trail, a four-hour hike that covers 7.3 miles. The California poppy, goldfields and white iris paint the landscape with vibrant hues. The Friends of Mount Tam organize guided weekend hikes and astronomy nights April through October and staff the Visitor Center. They also run the not-to-be-missed Gravity Car Barn, a tiny museum of railroad history open on weekends. Restrooms available. Parking $8. 3801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley. 415-388-2070.
Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station. The 33,300 acres of coastal wilderness include beaches, grasslands, marshes and forests. More than 25 varieties of wildflowers live here. Get the group together at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the primary information hub, to get your bearings. An explosion of wildflowers gives shows at Abbotts Lagoon, a 3.2-mile hike on coastal bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. Chimney Rock Trail is another wildflower hotspot with a short 1.6-mile trail near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Some gray whales are sighted here. Look for the California buttercup, seaside daisy, yellow flowers known as mule's ear and Blue Douglas iris. The Abbotts Lagoon is a seasoned locale for flowers with a 2-mile out-and-back hike along the lagoon. Full flushing toilet restrooms available at the visitors’ center. Stroller-friendly along fire roads. Picnic tables available. 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station. 415-464-5100. For more information on the park’s wildflowers, check here.
In addition, the Marin Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has wildflower reports on its Facebook page.
SOUTH OF SAN FRANCISCO
Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve, Redwood City. With more than 450 acres and over 500 plant species at Edgewood, you'll be mesmerized by the diverse habitats and wildflowers. Visit the small interpretive center to begin. The five loop trails will take you on a magical journey to see the rare Bay checkerspot butterfly. Very popular is the 3.46-mile Serpentine Loop Trail, known for being flat, moderate in difficulty and best for viewing the blooms. Not recommended for strollers. Rustic-housed, co-ed flushing toilets. Weekends best bet for open men/women's bathroom facilities at education center. Free docent led wildflower walks are scheduled on weekends from March 16-June 2. See Friends of Edgewood for information on additional walks, including bird and junior explorer walks. 10 Old Stage Coach Road, Redwood City. 650-368-6283. Education center: 650-367-7576.
Henry W. Coe State Park, Morgan Hill. Few realize that this is California's second largest state park at 87,003 acres, with abundant ridges, canyons, oak, pine and Manzanita, ponds and streams. Here's a heads up – every hike at Henry Coe has elevation, so make sure your kids are capable of climbing steep hills. The best thing is to start at the visitor center for hiking options, but call ahead to verify it will be open. Hearty hikers can tread the Corral Trail and connect the paths to form a 4.7-mile loop for a 2.5-hour hike. For a bounty of great colors, take the Springs/Forest Trail loop. Rangers recommend the Manzanita Point Road to see a phenomenal array of flowers, as well as the Hobbs Road trail with red-leafed Indian warrior plants. Restrooms available. Day-use fee $8. 9000 E. Dunne Ave., Morgan Hill. 408-779-2728.
Calero County Park, San Jose. Part of the Santa Clara County park system, Calero is located in San Jose's southernmost edge and surrounds the Calero reservoir. Pretty much everyone can handle the brief hike to the Los Cerritos Pond, less than a half-mile from the trailhead. Bigger kids can tackle the popular 2.6-mile hike that includes the Figueroa, Vallecito, Pena, and Los Cerritos trails. You'll discover the best blooms on the Chisnantuk Peak Trail, but it requires an eight-mile journey with moderate and strenuous hoofing. Not recommended for strollers. 23205 McKean Road, San Jose. 408-535-4070.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Boulder Creek. See buttercups, shooting stars and western wake robin at this annual April exhibit of more than 50 native plants found in the western portion of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Rancho del Oso Nature & History Center, 3600 Highway 1 at Waddell Creek, Davenport. 831-427-2288. .
-Kathy Chin Leong and Janine DeFao
Want more? Watch a Southern California desert come to life with flora and fauna!